Infantilizing Believers: a No-Win Game

by | September 11, 2014

Last night US President Barack Obama addressed Americans on TV to inform them how the US will engage in the elimination of ISIL (aka IS, ISIS), the Sunni jihadist group that has proclaimed itself a caliphate and has its sights set on conqueringISIL most of the Muslim inhabited regions in the Middle East. The group is thuggish, violent, hateful and dangerous and many nations rightly define it as a terrorist organization.

The part of Obama’s speech that stood out for me was when he asserted:

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

I’ll grant Obama that ISIL is not a state but ISIL is “islamic”. Islam is obsessed with jihad and the killing of apostates; we are fortunate that many of Islam’s followers have chosen to ignore the more dastardly edicts of their religion. I suspect Obama wants to ensure that the masses do not harm innocent Muslims but in so doing, he infantilizes both followers of Islam, by insisting they do not mean what they say, and the American people, by anticipating they will react badly. Would it not be simpler to say that this does not mean that Muslims are de facto bad people and we should be clear in drawing this distinction?

Sam Harris says it perfectly in his post, Sleepwalking Toward Armageddonwhen he lists the academic experts who echo Obama’s assertions and questions what these “real motivations” could be if not the ones that ISIL proclaims:

Above all, these experts claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations. What are their real motivations? Insert here the most abject hopes and projections of secular liberalism: How would you feel if Western imperialists and their mapmakers had divided your lands, stolen your oil, and humiliated your proud culture?

Indeed, when will we wake up and recognize that religion is pernicious? Again I will quote Sam because his words are dead on:

Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?

It’s time secular and religious folk alike woke up and recognized bad ideas for what they are and stop giving religion a pass!

Sam’s excellent article is available on his site and if you would like to read what Obama said last night, VOX has transcribed Obama’s speech.

21 thoughts on “Infantilizing Believers: a No-Win Game

  1. Dayan75

    “No religion condones the killing of innocents”. Although technically true, it misses the point.
    It’s a black-and-white world in Islam: there are the rightful worshipers of Allah and there’s everyone else. There are no innocents. The Quran advocates struggle (jihad) against atheists, idolators, polytheists, Christians, Jews, non-believers in Allah in many sura including the often quote sura 9:5 ” kill the idolators wherever you find them” and sura 8:12 “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”. These and other similar verses are the foundation of the beheadings and atrocities that are a daily occurence right now. Religion starts it. Religion justifies it. Religion fuels it. Religion causes it.

  2. Bubba Kincaid

    “Islam is obsessed with jihad and the killing of apostates”??

    Sounds like you’ve been drinking today’s special.

    Your analysis is what is infantile which is not surprising since it has been spoon-fed to you.

    I could agree with you if in fact the dumb murderous bastards DIDN’T ALSO EXPLICITLY STATE that in addition to all the myriad of expected caricaturistic religious gobbledygook ‘Western imperialists and their mapmakers had divided their lands, stolen their oil, and humiliated their proud culture’.

    But they ARE IN FACT also stating that. Explicitly and regularly.

    So the dichotomy attempted to be established here, is false.

    Don’t get ahead of yourself. Please. All that is happening is a shitload of utter insanity which is what you have already been told time and time and time again, is the result of a bunch of fucked up bullshit.

    Happens every time like clockwork, EVERYWHERE.

    And all indications are that it is going to get worse. So set your watch by it.

    1. Diana MacPherson

      So do you think that had there never been imperialism at all, Islam would be peaceful? There would be no killings?

      1. Bubba Kincaid

        Sounds to me that you are in a mental mindscape that is reaching out quasi-subconsciously to find justifications for “imperialism”, likely do to factors somewhat more solid than mere acquaintance.

        Your question is somewhat akin to, “Do you think that if there were no killings, that there would be no killings?”.

        Whatever the proper term for that class of logical paradox is.

        1. Bubba Kincaid

          And by the way, the reason why trying to avoid logical
          errors and oversights of the type you are employing is, for example, because not doing so causes you to miss crucial facts such as, guess what, the majority of the people being killed by these “islamic” people are “islamic” people.

          That being quite apart from whether or not you enjoy seeing “islamic” people killing “islamic” people or “islamic” people dying for whatever reason, generally.

        2. Diana MacPherson

          How is that a logical paradox? You said that the reason those who adhere to Islam are violent is because of imperialism. If that is true, removing the imperialism should stop the violence.

          You might also consider the following:

          1) The Islamic world has been, even recently, imperialist themselves – a colonialising power well into the 20th C.
          2) ISIS is killing other Muslims. Why would they murder their brothers and sisters in an effort to get back at Western colonial powers of the past?
          3) Tell me where the truly peaceful Islamic states are: Turkey? Libya? Sudan? Syria? Saudi Arabia?

          Religions naturally include moral codes – moral codes cause harm. Islamic moral codes like jihad and hating Jews (both are in the Koran) are harmful.

          Knock off calling me “spoon fed” and illogical. You are making rude assertions without evidence instead of arguing the facts.

          1. Bubba Kincaid

            Dude I’m definitely not going to get into this with you because you are obviously in that headspace that has been going around for a while now halfway between cogency and inanity. Or cogent inanity rather.

          2. Bubba Kincaid

            I’ll just suggest to you that you head on over to the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) library, located in their building in toronto.

            There you will find, in the library’s Feminist Literature section (Yes they have, one and it is room sized) along 3/4 of one wall, about 100 years worth of Middle Eastern Feminist Journals.

            I’ll start getting into it with you once you do that.


          3. Diana MacPherson

            You really don’t know who you are talking to when you condescend me that way but since you are more interested in ad homs than engaging in actual discussion, I will leave off that.

          4. Bubba Kincaid

            Please do, oh great one, and please also do go check that out.

  3. Ultra

    At best, Harris is a recognized expert in islamaphobia… not Islam or the middle east.

  4. billybob

    Religion is an excuse for oppression, be it muslim or catholic, ask the Cathars. God(s) is irrelevant, power and wealth are all that matter to the leaders.

  5. Tim Underwood

    A few decades ago a book called ‘A Sojourn Amongst the Converted’ by a VS Naipaul was available. He was revisiting several countries that had been converted to Islam. One of the countries was Iran, after the hostage event. He interviewed several people who secretly yearned for secular democracy.
    When you hear the likes of Santorum, a GOB candidate, it makes an observer feel massively incredulous.
    There are many people in the oil rich countries who want to be real secular American-like people and there are many people in oil consuming countries who desire the Caliphate equivalent.
    Possibly we are just used to supporting the wrong people. The communists supported local communists, only. Just imagine if we take the same stance with secular people locally, exclusively.
    P.S. I know there is some weird Dracula allusions alleged about that book. I thought they were appropriate.

    1. Bubba Kincaid

      I suspect the delusion of the perpetual innocent naive do-gooder constantly just making the wrong choices with no real concomitant tangible consequence, is a harder one to maintain than to see through.

      The notions from whence it is derived are also pretty plain to see.

  6. Indi

    I don’t think it’s “infantilizing” believers to say “you don’t really understand the reasons for why you’re doing what you do”. In fact, we say that to them all the time, really (for example, routinely telling them that they believe in their particular religion because of where they were born, rather than because they thoughtfully weighed the options and came to a rational conclusion). And the whole point of recent research into how our brain works is that that statement is literally true for *everybody* – most of what we do, we just do because of raw emotional urge, and only rationalize after the fact.

    Now i’m not going to defend what Obama or Bush is saying because they’re politicians; they’re saying it, whether it’s true or not, to get votes, not for the same of intelligent or rational discourse. However, what Islam-bashers like Sam Harris say doesn’t make sense either. I’ll demonstrate.

    Imagine a society that is a perfect secular humanist utopia. Everyone is protected by the social safety net – no-one goes hungry, no-one lacks for medical care, no-one is “ignored” by mainstream society. Resources and wealth are fairly distributed, and everyone has everything they need. There is virtually no crime or violence, social strife caused by racism, sexism, classism, etc. is nonexistent, and everyone is well-educated and has access to the same opportunities as everyone else. All rights are respected, freedom of expression is well-understood and protected, and the state is completely secular and based on reason. And, of course, there’s absolutely no religion, mysticism, or supernatural crap whatsoever. It is, as i said, a secular humanist paradise.

    Now add one charismatic, extremist Muslim preacher.

    What do you think would happen in such a society? If one believes the rhetoric of people like Harris, it’s only a matter of time before – like a cancer – people start getting sucked into religious frenzy and strapping bombs on themselves. But that’s demonstrably bullshit, because even in societies that are not even *close* to as perfect as that hypothetical one, militant religion is gaining no foothold. The closest they ever get is people coming from troubled countries and refusing to actually mentally “leave” their former, nasty environments – but even then, after a generation or two of assimilation, their kids or grandkids are usually completely uninterested in that crap.

    Now try a slightly different thought experiment. Take the exact same society described above, only this time instead of adding Islam, add poverty. Or racism. Or take away safety by randomly bombing the population, so people can never be sure if they’ll survive the day.

    In any of those cases, you will eventually end up with people banding together in the name of injustice, and usually becoming violent if their grievances cannot be fixed any other way. We’ve seen this again and again throughout history, and religion doesn’t need to be involved at all. In fact, sometimes quite the opposite, if religion was part of the social structure creating the strife and suffering, it will be targeted, too – like the in the case of the Cuban Revolution.

    But i’m not saying religion is blameless. Whenever the situation is bad, religion will make it worse. Take that utopian society and add religion… nothing really happens. Take that utopian society and add poverty (or racism, or whatever)… trouble. But take that utopian society, add poverty (or whatever), then *also* add religion… *THAT* is when you get people chanting prayers while blowing themselves up or flying planes into buildings.

    This is not hypothetical, either. Sam Harris’s armchair ravings are based solely on his *feeling* of what militant religious extremists are like. Other people have been more responsible, and have actually sought out people who were *almost* suicide bombers (they were stopped either by the law, or by other events in their lives), and asked them why they almost did what they almost did. Their answers, almost universally, are that they were driven by a sense of injustice – they wanted to fight the powerful system that was oppressing them or people they sympathized with. Religion did not tell them, “you must do this”. Their desire for a just world told them they had to fight, and all religion did was give them justification and support.

    Religion – and Islam in particular – is *NOT* what ignites evil. But it *IS* an accelerant. Adding religion to a peaceful, stable society does little or nothing. Adding religion to a troubled society… you get hell on earth. The point that Harris’s detractors are trying to make (and i don’t include Obama or Bush in this, because, again, they’re just full of shit politicians who aren’t really making a coherent point) is that Harris is exaggerating the impact of religion – Islam in particular – and ignoring the *REAL* causes of extremism. And in doing so, he’s distracting people from the real solutions. We will not solve the problem of violence and brutality in the Middle East by mocking Islam – even if we succeed another religion will probably take its place, but frankly we just won’t succeed. We *WILL* solve the problem by giving people in that area peace, safety, opportunities, and taking them out of poverty (making sure they have all their needs met). If we do that, Islam will just fade into a mostly harmless annoyance, in time – and eventually, fade away completely.

    1. Diana MacPherson

      Neither Sam Harris, nor I say that the world would be perfect without certain religions or that violence in the Middle East is not the result of one variable. However, it is abundantly clear that religion not only spawns bad ideas, it suppresses good ones. It also allows for an environment where oppression is seen as virtuous (women, people of other faiths).

      As for infantilizing, I think that is exactly what we do to believers when we say they can’t handle life without god or when we tell IS members that they don’t really mean they are conquering and killing for Allah because those little people, they don’t understand the big picture.

      I think they are being honest when they say they will kill the infidels they mean what they say.

    2. Bubba Kincaid

      And let’s not forget the allegations of 1 million children having died because of the Iraq sanctions 1991-2003, where need I remind everyone, the West and especially the US was, in addition, bombing practically daily and quite obviously merely as an intimidation factor, where Bush Sr. laughingly led the southern shiites into a sure slaughter of 100s of thousands of them with empty promises, and where from 2003-2012 or whatever it is, somewhere north of 2 million people died in the extremely violent US occupation, which found not a single drop of WMD.

      All of these allegation to this day are holding up rather strongly as fact.

      Yet we are to believe that the psychological effect coming out of that has nothing to do with anything? Despite the unending supply of analogous examples we have in the basic historical record, religion involved or not?

      All kind of crazies going on with that.

      1. Bubba Kincaid

        And none of it the kind of crazy that speaks “truth to power”, despite blatantly attempting to feign so.

        1. Bubba Kincaid

          Noticed this:

          ‘Afghan Holocaust, Afghan Genocide: as of October 2011, 5.6 million war-related deaths, 2001-2011; 1.4 million post-invasion violent deaths; 4.2 million non-violent excess deaths from deprivation; 2.9 million post-invasion under-5 infant deaths (90% avoidable and due to US Alliance war crimes in gross violation of the Geneva Convention and the UN Genocide Convention), 3-4 million refugees plus 2.5 million NW Pakistan Pashtun refugees.

          Iraqi Holocaust, Iraqi Genocide: for the period 2003- 2011, 2.7 million post-invasion war-related deaths, 1.5 million violent deaths, 1.2 million non-violent excess deaths from war-imposed deprivation, 0.8 million post-invasion under-5 infant deaths, 5-6 million refugees; for the period 1990-2003, 0.2 million violent deaths, 1.7 million non-violent excess deaths from war-imposed deprivation, 1.2 million under-5 infant deaths; for the period 1990-2011, 4.6 million war-related deaths, 1.7 million violent deaths, 2.9 million deaths from war-imposed deprivation, 2.0 million under-5 infant deaths (90% avoidable and due to US Alliance war crimes in gross violation of the Geneva Convention and the UN Genocide Convention).’


          But of course ignoring all that will still allow for a proper, credible, and thorough analysis of today’s situation. Won’t it.

          1. Bubba Kincaid

            And then of course there is the competing desires of the US-Saudi alliance contributing to the insane asylum which is now the middle east.

            ​US failure to see Saudi role in 9/11 contributed to rise of ISIS – ex-senator

            In other words, you ignore the geo-econo-politics driving most of this at your own peril of appearing like a complete moron.

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